Mind Your Eyes

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The Mozambique spitting cobra belongs to the genus Naja, an exclusive group of 28 species. The Naja are distinguished from other snakes with similar characteristics, such as the black mamba and the King Cobra, by several factors although they all belong to the family Elapidae, or front-fanged snakes.

The major distinguishing factor of the cobra is its habit of spreading its neck ribs out to form a menacing looking hood when threatened, although not all hooded snakes are true cobras. Apart from its trademark hood, the cobra is distinguished by smooth scales and round pupils. Other cobra-like snakes, such as the King Cobra are classified into different genera due to their inferior hoods, different habits and various other minor details.

The Mozambique Spitting cobra, commonly known as the Mfezi, is a widespread resident of the South African landscape in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga and may be found close to sources of permanent water, secreted in hollow logs, abandoned termite mounds and rodent holes.

Reaching 'only' 105 cm in length, the Mozambique spitting cobra is the smallest of its kind. Despite its diminutive size, it is considered one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa, being able to both bite and spit for considerable distances (2 to 3 metres).

A bite from one of these serpents causes severe local tissue destruction and the venom can lead to blindness if it is not flushed from the eyes immediately. The general rule for these snakes seems to be that they bite things smaller than them and spit at anything taller than them when cornered or surprised. They are nervous, highly-strung snakes and have also been known to feign death to avoid confrontation.

When it comes to food, most cobras are opportunistic feeders and generalists; they will eat whatever they can find including birds, small mammals, amphibians, lizards, other snakes, eggs, and carrion, even roadkill. Being nocturnal, Mozambique spitting cobras are rarely seen out in the open and prefer to hunt at dawn or dusk, often in the vicinity of human settlements. They can go for weeks and even months without food if necessary, a handy survival tool which is made possible by their extremely slow metabolism.

The Mozambique spitting cobra is most easily identified by its pinkish undercarriage with black throat bars and olive grey to black colouring above. Younger specimens sometimes exhibit pink or yellow bars on the throat.

They reproduce by means of eggs, which are laid 30 to 40 at a time and they remain close to their nest to defend it from predators, such as boars and mongoose – the mortal enemy of the cobra.

Mongoose are the only predators which pose a real threat to the cobra, being quick and acrobatic, with a penchant for outmanoeuvring these slow-moving reptiles.

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Thursday, 24 May 2018